Tuesday’s primary results were hailed as “historic” by a number of media outlets. “Vermont Democrats made history Tuesday,” declared the Burlington Free Press. NPR framed the matter with the same word, “historic,” as did the New York Times, ABC, and others. Most were pealing the bells for Vermont’s first “openly transgender” candidate for governor, Christine Hallquist. Hallquist was born male but now prefers to dress as a woman. Her success in the Democratic primary is being celebrated as comparable to the breakthroughs of African-American candidates (here is the New York Times video trumpeting a “night of firsts”).
The words “history” or “historic” in the mouths of progressives are always laudatory. They are honorifics, not descriptions. After all, lots of things are firsts — a Holocaust-denying, Nazi sympathizer made it onto the ballot on the Republican ticket in Illinois’s third congressional district. That doesn’t get described as historic. Donald Trump is the first person to be elected without any previous governmental service at all. That’s not historic. No, progressives have a proprietary feeling about history. They are convinced that it “bends toward justice,” as Barack Obama was fond of quoting, and that it will inevitably trend their way. I’ve always found this an inexplicable fantasy, since among other things, the world witnessed within living memory one of the most progressive nations on the planet (Germany) descending into barbarism within the space of a few short years. Where was history’s benevolent guiding hand then? And where was it when those tribunes of history, the Soviet commissars, starved and enslaved and shot upward of 20 million people? Or when Venezuela transitioned from the richest to the poorest country in Latin America?
Hallquist’s chief claim to office appears to be her sexuality, since she confessed ignorance about economics during a recent CNN interview. Asked if she supported socialism, she said “Yes, but I don’t even know what socialism is, so I’m not sure I have the background to answer that question.” Asked whether she supported capitalism, she said “Well, obviously, the long history of measuring ourselves by increases in the gross domestic product is a flawed measure because that just encourages consumption. And we can see what consumption is doing to our world.”
Part of the progressive project is to shoehorn certain new nonconformists, particularly sexual nonconformists, into the minority category. These favored groups — transgenders are the flavor of the month — are compared explicitly to African Americans, and thus any accomplishment is celebrated as progress for them personally and for our society for shedding its prejudice. In fact, the civil-rights template is the only way liberals can understand events at all. They have no other lens. And so they insist upon lionizing people who choose to behave and dress like the other sex as if they’re all Rosa Parks.
This is not to say that we should treat transgenders with anything but tolerance and understanding. If grown up Americans choose to surgically alter their bodies and inject themselves with hormones to resemble the opposite sex, fine. That’s their business. And people deserve to be called what they choose to be called. If someone born a man now wears a dress and had breast implants and wants me to call him “she,” I will respect that (even if I do not believe that makes him a woman). It’s important to be polite and respectful.
But the celebration of transgenders doesn’t stop with adults. In the blink of an eye — and with no scientific consensus — honoring the “cross-gender identities” of even small children is becoming commonplace. The great portcullis of political correctness has slammed down on those who plead for a little common sense when it comes to kids. Tiny children too young for kindergarten are being dressed and groomed as the opposite sex. Older children are being given puberty-blocking hormones in preparation for surgical transition.
Parents are counseled by “experts” that if they do not ratify their child’s gender identity, they may be consigning him or her to depression or suicide. Look, there is a tiny minority of kids who have genuine gender dysphoria and they deserve compassionate care. But the vast majority of children who express a desire to be the other sex are going through a stage. I know. I was one of them. When I was about six I played with trucks, climbed trees, and asked my friends to call me “Timmy.” Thank God my parents shrugged it off. I’ve since married and had three children. Thank God I was a tomboy before it became dangerous.
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Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.